Mera Bharat not yet Mahaan

Stop the jingoism

I am about as patriotic as any Indian, even if I am not terribly nationalistic and do consider making us stand up for the national anthem in cinema halls among the few glaring errors of judgement by an otherwise laudable Supreme Court. But patriotism and nationalism are subjective sentiments, like love and affection. Pride in one’s performance has to be assessed more objectively, and we shall presently see how we perform on several parameters compared to the rest of the world, 70 years after we won freedom from colonial rule.

And if we continue to indulge in our empty swagger about being the oldest civilisation in the world, or that we were the cradle of every imaginable achievement over 2,000 years ago, well we are only likely to look worse for it today. A glorious past is hardly a consolation for a sorry present.

Take a look at this:

World Bank (2017) ranks us at 130 out of 190 countries on the ease of doing business, 155 on starting a new business, 185 on dealing with construction permits, 138 on registration of properties, 172 on paying taxes, 143 on trading across borders, 172 on enforcement of contracts, 136 on resolving insolvency, and 131 on protecting minority. On the corruption perception index of Transparency International (2016), we rank 73/176.

On the economic front, on per capita GDP, we rank 124/187 and 113/175, or 130/198 according to IMF, World Bank and CIA World Factbook (all 2016), respectively. On exports to GDP ratio, we rank 142/222 (CIA Factbook, 2017). On Numbeo’s (2017) quality of life index, we are 43/56, and on the pollution index, we are the 17th most polluted country out of 91. On Yale’s 2016 environment performance index, we are 141/180.

Our child mortality rate ranks us 126/175 (UNDP, 2016) and 137/184 (WHO, 2017). We rank 127/182 on maternal mortality and on the percentage of births supervised by skilled attendants we rank 166/192 (WHO, 2017). On the global burden of diseases, we rank 154/195 (Lancet, 2015). We are 185/215 on literacy (CIA Factbook, 2017). Our life expectancy at birth ranks us at 132/188, expected years of schooling 131/188 and mean years of schooling 131/188 (UNDP, 2016).

Our population of women per men ranks at 192/201 (UN, 2015) and gender gap in median earnings 44/44 (OECD, 2017). Our social progress index, according to Michael Porter, et al, (2017) is 93/128 and on the global peace index of the Institute of Economics and Peace (2017), we are 137/163.

Our R&D expenditure as a percentage of GDP ranks us at 41/88 countries and per capita spend at 70/88 (UNESCO, 2014-15). Our 2016 Olympics medals tally ranks 67/86.
IESC’s cities in motion index (2017) ranks Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata at 159, 168 and 178 respectively out of 190 countries. Expats rank us 124/187, 113/175 or 130/198 (Expat Insider Survey, World Bank, CIA Factbook 2016, respectively)

One look at the above and it is quite likely that I will be accused of being an India-basher. I may also be called anti-national for highlighting only the bad news, when in truth there is so much about India that’s mahaan. I may be accused of selectively withholding such positive and happy facts as India being the world’s sixth largest economy; or that we produce the highest number of engineers and doctors in the world, or that India is the largest producer of millet, banana, lemon, mango, areca-nut, spice, mica, ginger, chickpea, milk, butter, jute, live-stock of buffaloes, and fennel. I may be accused of ignoring that India has the largest area of irrigated land, largest population of tigers, largest number of films produced, or even electronic spam, and so on. Don’t these facts counter-balance the contents of all those rankings above?

To such questions, my answer is simple. Given our enormous population of 1.3 billion, we are pretty much as likely to have the maximum number of engineers or doctors as judges, lawyers, plumbers, carpenters, construction workers, railway workers, policemen, factory workers, school-goers, and such.

The problem arises only when you reduce such statistics to per capita, and you suddenly find you have the fewest doctors, policemen, judges, per 1,000 population. Besides being the biggest producer of unemployable engineers or doctors or the biggest producers of areca-nut, millet, fennel and lemon are hardly the vehicles that will take an aspiring economy too far, even if we like to preen about our highest growth rate on a woefully low base. That’s why, despite being the sixth “biggest economy by GDP”, we rank a dismal 124 out of 187 countries, based on per-capita GDP. It’s the same with most statistics. And the statistics do not include the state of our infrastructure, hygiene, productivity and the like.

We believe that if we close our eyes our monsters will disappear. Consider our response to the poor showing of our students’ performance in PISA – an international assessment programme of 15-year olds in reading, maths and sciences, conducted every three years. Even though the scores of our students were consistent with many similar tests conducted internally within the country, so embarrassed was the HRD ministry at the poor showing of our students from Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh – the two states that participated in the assessment in 2009 – that hiding behind the excuse of language and cultural differences (which incidentally would have been true for any student from any non-English speaking country), the ministry decided to boycott PISA since 2012. By not participating in PISA, we pretend all is well with our education.

As a people, we demonstrate the same tendency. We are forever looking to blame a foreign hand for all our troubles. This is what our politicians, irrespective of their party affiliations, have reduced our country to -- feeding us for decades empty words of pride in nationalism, when we have very little to take pride in the state of our nation. Didn’t two empty words – “demographic dividend” -- suddenly solve what in 1970, 80s and 90s we rightly regarded as our biggest problem, population? Our mammoth problems and challenges seem to be solved mostly by words, promises, or slogans, and very seldom by action.

(The writer is an academic and author)

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